The Minnesota Wild skates to filibuster one of the National Hockey League’s most dangerous duos tonight at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild faces the League’s leading goal scorer, Alex Ovechkin, and his running mate, Nicklas Backstrom, and the Washington Capitals.
Two weeks ago the Wild earned a 2-1 victory in D.C., while the Caps were without Ovechkin. This year, the 29-year-old is having an MVP-caliber season, leading the League in goals (45) and tied for second in points with Backstrom (71) and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.
Defenseman Matt Dumba’s shot is a low-flying projectile, igniting the red light seven times this season, none bigger than his overtime winner last night against the Nashville Predators.
The Minnesota Wild welcomed back a pair of players at today’s practice at Xcel Energy Center. Ryan Carter and Marco Scandella joined the team for the first time since sustaining their respective injuries. Both players will not join the team as it travels to Music City to face Central Division foe, the Nashville Predators, tomorrow at 7 p.m.
Carter and Scandella both were full participants and engaged in the team’s battle drills. If they both react well to the session, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said that when the team gets back from Nashville they should be considered day-to-day. Yeo said they’ve been putting in work to get them ready for a return.
“We’ve put them through some pretty good sessions, as far as being on the ice and getting to a point where we feel they're ready to rejoin us,” Yeo said. “I thought that they both looked good today.
“There was a pretty high battle level and both guys hung in there.”
The bench boss said they’re “right on the verge of being available” and it will be a matter of them feeling comfortable and getting them back into the lineup.
Carter has been sidelined since suffering an upper-body injury on Feb. 9 and has missed 20 games. Getting used to the contact and confident in returning to the ice is the biggest challenge when coming off an injury, according to Carter.
“It’s getting comfortable,” Carter said. “I think it’s easy to have a little bit of doubt in your body and what you can do when you come back from an injury and things like that. So it’s a matter of getting comfortable with it and being confident in when you’re ready to go.”
Scandella has missed seven games with an upper-body injury sustained on Feb. 28. The blueliner was optimist about returning to the ice and excited to be back with teammates, but he’s going to be cautious moving forward.
“I’m not ready to put a percentage on it,” Scandella said. “I don’t want to rush it and get it hurt and set myself back. Today was a big step and we’re going to reevaluate and continue from here.”
He spent his down time away from the rink catching up on the television show, Sons of Anarchy. With the warmer weather in the State of Hockey, he was also able to enjoy the outdoors a little by going on walks. But there is no place he’d rather be than out on the ice.
“I didn’t need it, trust me, I wish I was playing with the guys,” Scandella added. “Without putting a timetable on it, I’d be really excited to play this weekend.”
The Wild continues to be unlucky on the blue line. With Scandella inching towards a return, Nate Prosser will miss extended time with a lower-body injury.
“It’s week-to-week, but knowing Pross, it’s probably going to be a lot shorter than what the original timetable was,” Yeo said. “Something like this could potentially be up to four weeks, but again, knowing him, I think it could be less than that.”
Folin In Against Nashville
With Prosser out for an extended period, Christian Folin will return to the lineup against the Predators. The 24-year-old has been out of the lineup since the Wild acquired Jordan Leopold, but the club was looking for an opportunity for him to get back in.
“He was actually playing a real strong game before that,” Yeo said. “We toyed with the idea of getting him back in in St. Louis, and obviously those guys did a great job, but we’ve got full confidence in him.
“We’ll have to get him up to game speed, but you play a team like Nashville and that won’t take too long.”
Not only does tonight’s contest between the Minnesota Wild and Anaheim Ducks have Stanley Cup Playoff implications (heck, take a look at the Wild’s schedule; every game from here on out will), it is potentially a preview of a first round matchup.
If the season ended today, the Wild and Ducks would meet in the opening round. Although Minnesota still has a tough 15 games remaining in the regular season, the possibility of facing Anaheim in the postseason is acknowledged. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo looks at the potential matchup and prior meetings, but feels that regular season results are not a 100 percent an indicator when all the chips are on the line.
Following a tumultuous 2013-14 campaign, which saw him twice traded, career start No. 200 was the furthest thing from goaltender Devan Dubnyk’s mind. When the Minnesota Wild acquired the netminder on Jan. 14, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo had no idea he’d be starting the goalie in 25 consecutive contests. Yet here they are, as Dubnyk will hit both marks tonight as the Wild host the New Jersey Devils at Xcel Energy Center.
Dubnyk continues to set a franchise record for consecutive games started and the quarter-century mark is the best since 2012. Jonas Hiller was the last netminder to start more than 25 consecutive, when he between the pipes for the Anaheim Ducks for 32 straight from Jan. 12 to March 18, 2012.
The Minnesota Wild had a new blueliner on the ice for today’s optional skate. Well, that’s what the Lighthouse initially thought, until we realized it wasn’t a new skater at all—just Christian Folin sporting a jet-black moustache.
With the practice being optional, our first inclination, maybe it was a fake ‘stache stuck onto his upper lip for laughs. But upon closer inspection, we confirmed it was the real deal.
We had more questions than a cop in an interrogation room. Did he lose a bet? When did he shave it? How did the fair-haired Swede get it so dark?
“It was my idea,” Folin said. “I was kind of bored yesterday when I found out I wasn’t playing, so I wanted to give the guys a good laugh.
“I think I succeeded.”
Of course, his teammates got a kick out of the muzzy. Fellow blueliner and friend to the facial foliage, Matt Dumba, quipped that in the right light it looks blue.
“They liked it a lot,” Folin said. But there was a contingent with youngsters who found it a bit creepy. “They’re kind of scared, they don’t want me around their kids now.”
Folin picked up a box of Just For Men “dark black” at the pharmacy. He’s familiar with the process, but it’s the first time we’ve seen the lip sweater with the Wild.
“I think it started when I came over here to the U.S. In November you try to get a good ‘stache going and the last few years I’ve been doing Just For Men,” Folin said. “I did it this year, too, but I was in Iowa so you guys didn’t get to glance at it. So I decided to bring it back here in March.”
He’s not sure how long he’ll keep the lip luggage, and it might not be up to him.
“My girlfriend didn’t like it at all,” Folin said.
Dubnyk, Suter and Coyle Take Option
With the Wild playing three games in four days, the club held an optional practice today. Charlie Coyle, Devan Dubnyk and Ryan Suter all exercised the options, but Head Coach Mike Yeo said they’d all be ready tomorrow when Minnesota hosts the New Jersey Devils.
“It was a full optional today,” Yeo said. “We were actually surprised at the number of guys that went on, and that’s a good sign.”
Even with the team’s new acquisitions at the trade deadline, the bench boss believed that rest is more important at this juncture of the year.
“We’ve played an awful lot of games during this stretch,” Yeo said. “I could see, on the ice, a little bit of fatigue in our game yesterday and even just emotionally, you could kind of feel it on the bench.”
Defenseman Marco Scandella wasn’t on the ice with the team after skating yesterday on his own. Yeo did designate the previously undisclosed injury as the upper-body variety and added that he hasn’t been able to shoot pucks at 100 percent. The bench boss said he’d need to join the team for a few practices before he expects him to return to game action, making the weekend games against the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues unlikely.
“I’m not going to say no,” Yeo said regarding Friday’s game against Anaheim. “I know that he has to feel better than he does right now.”
The Minnesota Wild swings through the southern leg of its quick back-to-back roadie tonight in Raleigh, N.C., against the Carolina Hurricanes.
For the 23rd consecutive game, goaltender Devan Dubnyk will get the nod in net. Coming off a 24-save performance last night in a 2-1 win against the Washington Capitals, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo is sticking with the hot hand.
“We look at this as an extremely important game for us,” Yeo said.
With the Western Conference playoff race tighter than a corset on a Southern Bell, giving the club its best chance to win is the priority.
“You can talk about maybe resting or keeping an eye on games two, three weeks from now,” Yeo said. “But those games don’t mean a lot unless we win games right now.”
Weighing into the decision to play Dubnyk is Minnesota’s schedule in the coming days. The team had an optional skate this morning (Dubnyk took the option, obviously), is off tomorrow and with a 5 p.m. start time to Sunday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche back at Xcel Energy Center, the netminder won’t be seeing any additional ice.
“Given that, it’s almost important for him to have this game to keep fresh and to keep sharp,” Yeo said.
Niederreiter, Spurgeon Skate
After missing yesterday’s game with a lower-body injury, Nino Niederreiter was on the ice this morning during the team’s optional skate at PNC Arena. Last night, he was considered day-to-day. Yeo said he’d see how Niederreiter is feeling before making a decision on his availably against the Canes.
Yeo also had a wait-and-see status on tonight for Jared Spurgeon, who has missed the last seven games with an upper-body injury. The blueliner was held out of yesterday’s game in Washington to give him an extra day of rest and so that he wouldn’t be forced to play in back-to-back games. If Spurgeon is in, Christian Folin would be the likely defenseman out of the lineup, as he was the only other skater on the ice aside from goaltender Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper.
A snow emergency in the District of Columbia has shutdown the federal government, but the heavy falling flakes just made the commute to the Verizon Center for the Minnesota Wild’s morning skate feel like hockey weather.
Winners of four straight road games, the Wild looks to plow ahead tonight facing the Washington Capitals. It’s the first time the teams have met this season and will clash twice in the month, the second game coming back in the State of Hockey on March 19. However, that’s a long ways away in a hockey season.
Tonight’s contest will feature a battle of strength versus strength, the Wild’s penalty kill against the Caps’ power play. Minnesota’s penalty kill has been the League’s best since Jan. 29, killing 47-of-48 (97.9%) of opponent power play chances in its last 17 games. On the season, the club has the second-best penalty kill (87.0 percent) in the NHL.
Washington owns the second best power play in the league at 23.9 percent. At home, the Caps are clicking at 26 percent.
Defenseman Nate Prosser has been a key to the Wild’s PK success of late. The blueliner left Tuesday’s game due to illness, but is healthy today and ready for the challenge of facing the Caps.
“We’ve been bearing down,” Prosser said. “Trying to get that first exit going down 200 feet.”
The blueliner said that the team’s been excellent of winning faceoffs while shorthanded and icing the puck, which knocks time off the clock. When the opponent does carry in, the Wild’s gap has been slimmer than any bill passing through Congress. If the Caps do gain entry, that’s when Prosser shines.
“Making sure we’re blocking shots and paying the price,” Prosser said. “We’ll have success if we do that.”
The earmark of the Caps’ power play is Alex Ovechkin. The Wild might not have to worry about the high-scoring forward, as he’ll be a game-time decision due to a lower-body injury. However, the Wild is preparing like Ovechkin will be in the lineup.
“You could argue that they’ve got the best goal scorer in the League,” Yeo said. “He does a phenomenal job of finding lanes, finding seams. With his shot, it’s a threat every time.”
“Fear makes the wolf bigger than it is,” Yeo said. “And we have to be sure that we don’t come in here with too much respect for them.
“You have to make sure you’re aggressive in our game and that’s what we’ve been doing all year.”
Spurgeon Another Day
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon will wait at least one more day before rejoining the lineup. Yeo said that he didn’t want to put the blueliner into a back-to-back situation with the team playing against the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow night in Raleigh.
“I’m not 100 percent that he’ll be back in tomorrow,” Yeo said. “But we’ll see how it goes.”
The Wild has acquired three new players in the last week through trades, but has essentially had no practice time (morning skate doesn’t really count because the players are just trying to get their legs warmed up for the day) for the new guys to get acclimated to the team or its systems.
“It’s tough, we’ve got to rely on video,” Yeo said. “There’s a lot of teaching moments and things that you can learn throughout the course of the game. The good thing is they’re older players and they’ve been around, so I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment for them.”
Making the adjustment together will be fresh forwards Sean Bergenheim and Chris Stewart. The wings flanked captain Mikko Koivu at the team’s morning skate, so expect things to start that way against Washington.
When scoring first, Washington’s record is better than any politician’s on Capitol Hill. The Caps are a ridiculous 30-1-4 when notching the game’s first goal.
Conversely, The Wild has scored the first goal in 14 of its last 17 games and has won 15 of its last 16 games when it has scored first. Overall, the team is 28-6-3 when striking first.
“We’ve had good starts but we’ve understood that is setting the game up,” Yeo said.
No Decision In Net For Tomorrow
Yeo said that he hasn’t come to a decision in regards to tomorrow’s starting goaltender against the Canes. Devan Dubnyk will get his 22nd straight start in goal tonight. The bench boss said he’d make his decision based on tonight’s game.
“Reunited and it feels so good,” newly acquired Minnesota Wild forward Chris Stewart sang the Peaches & Herb verse over the phone to Jordan Leopold when the pair spoke about coming to the State of Hockey. They were teammates during Stewart’s rookie season with the Colorado Avalanche and again with the St. Louis Blues.
Yesterday, the pair became teammates for a third time, as the Wild acquired both players at the National Hockey League’s Trade Deadline. Finding out that they had been acquired by Minnesota was welcome new for both.
For Stewart, it ended a year of speculation that the struggling Buffalo Sabres would move the power forward.
The Minnesota Wild has seen some high times against the Colorado Avalanche since last year’s first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series win.
This season, the Wild has yet to yield a goal against the Avs in three games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the first time in franchise history the Wild has shutout the same opponent in three consecutive meetings in a season, becoming the first NHL team since 2007-08 (Detroit vs. Colorado and San Jose vs. Arizona) to blank an opponent in three straight. According to Elias, Minnesota is trying to become the first NHL team to post four straight shutouts against one opponent in the same season since 1928, when the (NHL) Pittsburgh Pirates earned four straight shutouts against Boston (12/1/27-1/28/28).
Holding the Avs scoreless in a trio of contests might come as a surprise following last year’s intense seven-game series. The Wild knows all about the young firepower Colorado boasts up front. Last night, the Avalanche won in a shootout in Dallas, but Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo expects its opponent’s best effort of the year tonight.
“You look at the group of forwards they have up there and it’s a very talented group,” Yeo said to WildTV. “If you’re not sharp they’ll take advantage of it.”
Since the All-Star Break, the Wild has been the hottest team in the National Hockey League, posting a League-best 25 points (12-2-1) in 15 games. Much of the team’s recent success can be credited to goaltender Devan Dubnyk, but the Wild’s blue line has been stepping up as well. The club leads the NHL in penalty kill percentage since Jan. 27, killing 36-of-37 (97.3 percent) of opponent power play chances in its last 15 games.
“Losing (Jared Spurgeon), we knew that would not be an easy thing to overcome,” Yeo said. “I think all three of those guys have really stepped up.”
Prosser’s game is the least flashy of the three, but has been a rock on the back end. Since Jan. 15, the defenseman has only had on minus rating in one game and is a plus-10 during the stretch.
“Pross’s game has been very steady for a good two months now,” Yeo said. He likes the way he’s been skating alongside Folin. Yeo said that the club hasn’t had to shelter their minutes or fear playing them against opponents’ top lines.
For Dumba, he’s taken on more offensive responsibility with Spurgeon out, but that’s not been the most impressive part of his game according to the bench boss.
“I’m actually very pleased with how he’s playing without the puck,” Yeo said. “His gap control, the way he’s defending in his own zone.
“These are the things we’re going to need him to maintain.”
The Wild wants to build on its lead in the eighth spot in the Western Conference. Coming into tonight’s game, the Wild is up one point on the Calgary Flames and six up on the Avs.
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon worked out today back in the State of Hockey. The blueliner was placed on Injured Reserve on Feb. 18 after taking a puck to the face against the Calgary Flames. He has missed four games with an upper-body injury.